Fassel emerges as front-runner

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Whether the Washington Redskins’ next coach is Gregg Williams or emerging front-runner Jim Fassel, he will have less power than Joe Gibbs.

Vinny Cerrato, owner Dan Snyder’s long-time chief lieutenant, was promoted to executive vice president/football operations yesterday and, according to a statement by the team, “will assume responsibility of all aspects of the team’s football organization — including personnel, the team roster, scouting and salary cap management.”

The announcement came a few hours after an executive with another NFL team confirmed Fassel interviewed again with Snyder and Cerrato on Monday and said the former New York Giants coach was the “mystery” candidate whose identity has been the subject of recent speculation.

After Gibbs’ retirement 15 days ago, Snyder told the coaching staff he wanted the hiring wrapped up in two weeks.

Fassel and Williams remain the front-runners, although Cerrato’s ascension in rank isn’t a great sign for Williams.

“It’s kind of a strange process, don’t you think?” the executive said. “[Snyder] made it pretty clear when Joe retired that stability was part of his platform, which automatically meant to me they were hiring from within.”

Since Williams began the interview process — and wasn’t immediately installed as Gibbs’ replacement — there has been widespread speculation that friction between Cerrato and Williams was causing the delay.

“They’re re-distributing Joe’s responsibilities, and it’s obvious the new head coach won’thave as much of a say,” the executive said. “They may go to a more formal GM-type structure even though Vinny won’t hold the title — his new title is very strong. It signifies a separation of powers.”

Cerrato having more control also could mean Snyder is itching to get more involved after playing a supporting role with Gibbs.

Added a league source: “Even if Vinny’s in charge, you know that Snyder’s really in charge.”

A veteran Redskins player continued to hope Williams gets the job even with Cerrato’s elevation.

“It’s kind of crazy right now,” the player said. “This thing has been taking a long time. Gregg knows this team better than anybody else. Vinny’s not a bad person, but he was here when they made some terrible mistakes with personnel.”

It remains unlikely the Redskins will hire a person under the title of general manager.

“I hope they don’t change the Joe Gibbs way of running things,” another veteran player said. “I would hate to see what we’ve got going ripped apart.”

Snyder and Cerrato weren’t available for comment, and Cerrato did not return a phone call to his office.

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